The Oakland A’s made a statement last week. With a gap slowly forming ahead of them in the Wild Card race, they welcomed the two best teams in the league for back-to-back series at the Coliseum. They needed a clutch performance against the heavyweight Astros and Yankees, and they came through in a big way.
When the dust settled, the A’s had won six of the seven games, including a three-game sweep of the Yankees. Here are the 10 best things about that amazing week.
1. Beating the best
If you want to win the World Series, you’ll eventually have to beat some of the best teams. And if you’re in a tight Wild Card race and you have the toughest remaining schedule, you’ll have to beat some of those top opponents just to reach October at all.
Oakland has actually done pretty well against the good teams in the league. They won the season series against the Twins, Rays, and Indians, and in fact they nearly swept Cleveland entirely. Looking down a notch in the standings, they played Boston pretty even, and hold leads over the Rangers and Angels. In interleague play, they swept the Cardinals and beat the Brewers, though the Cubs got the best of them.
But they hadn’t yet shown anything against great teams. They entered last week’s series at 2-9 against the Astros, and they hadn’t yet faced the Yankees at all. This was the first time we saw them beat truly elite competition, and they didn’t just win but frankly dominated. If you were looking for a sign that this A’s squad was coming together into a legit contender, then this was it — much like last year, when they won a series at home against the Astros that very same mid-August weekend en route to a hot September and a postseason berth.
2. Wild Card tie
At the end of Aug. 14, Oakland was becoming the third wheel in the Wild Card standings. The Indians held the top spot, the Rays were 1.5 games behind them in the second spot, and the A’s were two games back of Tampa Bay, on the outside looking in.
Fast forward 10 days, and it’s basically one big tie. The Rays won some games but not as many as Oakland did, and the Tribe hit a skid that’s seen them lose seven of their last 10. Now Tampa Bay holds the marginal half-game lead entering today, while the A’s and Indians are locked up for the second spot.
But wait! It’s not really tied. Oakland has played a couple fewer games than the other teams, and therefore they have the smallest number in the loss column — 53, while TB and CLE are each at 54 losses. You can always win a future game but you can’t un-lose one from the past, so you could make an argument that the A’s actually lead the Wild Card race right now.
It was a scorcher a week ago Thursday, when the A’s and Astros opened their series. The temperature went triple-digits in many parts of the Bay Area, and it got over 90 in Oakland. With the help of that extreme heat, the two teams put on a record-setting power display.
Each club swatted five homers by the end of the evening, and the 10 total dingers were the most ever in a game at the Coliseum. (The previous record was eight, matched most recently last summer by the same A’s/Astros matchup.) All 13 runs in the A’s 7-6 victory came via the long ball, with the following list chipping in:
- Matt Chapman (2)
- Matt Olson (2)
- Corban Joseph
- Michael Brantley (2)
- Carlos Correa (2)
- Alex Bregman
That list matched another record, this time league-wide. Four players each having multi-homer efforts in the same game ties the all-time mark, dating back to at least 1908, reports insider Sarah Langs. It’s the second time it’s happened this year because of course it is (previously Twins/Orioles), but before that it hadn’t been done since 1999.
Furthermore, for Chapman it was his second straight multi-homer game, after punishing the Giants the day before. He and Khris Davis are the only pair of teammates in MLB to have each done that at some point this season.
And just to show how completely broken the homer environment has become with this year’s juiced ball, the next night the Giants and D’Backs combined for 13 dingers, albeit in 11 innings.
4. ... But also finding other ways to win
The A’s have lived and died by the long ball this season. They can go deep with the best of them, but when the power runs dry they struggle to find other ways to score. That wasn’t the case this past week.
Entering the Astros series, Oakland was 2-26 in games in which they didn’t homer. They doubled that win total since then.
Last Saturday, they beat Houston 8-4, using 10 singles, three doubles, three walks, and a HBP, including a 3rd-inning rally in which seven straight batters reached base. Then the following Thursday they defeated the Yanks 5-3, thanks to seven singles, two doubles, a triple, two crucial table-setting walks, and some less-than-crisp fielding by New York.
At 4-26, the A’s have still lost 87% of the time this year when they don’t reach the seats, so this problem didn’t suddenly end just because they came through twice in a row. But it’s nice to see a reminder that they are in fact literally capable of winning without a homer (last happened June 17), and especially to see them learning to string together long rallies right as we enter crunch time.
5. Bullpen comes through
The A’s bullpen has struggled in the biggest moments this year, as evidenced by their AL-leading 22 blown saves. The relievers’ overall numbers are good, but when it’s come down to it they haven’t protected the lead as often as they should. That weakness has been one of the biggest factors holding the team back in the standings, and with just average fortune in this department they might instead have a comfortable lead for the Wild Card.
They got the job done last week, though. They did blow the save in Thursday’s dingeriffic series opener against the Astros, thanks to a long ball off Blake Treinen, but the A’s won that game anyway and then the pen was untouchable the rest of the way. (And to his credit, Treinen himself came through the next two days after his slip-up!)
The key performance came on Friday, when the game against Houston went 13 innings. After a quality start by Tanner Roark, the quartet of Treinen, Jake Diekman, Joakim Soria, and Lou Trivino combined for seven shutout frames on just three hits and two walks, with nine strikeouts along the way. Trivino went the final three innings on his own, giving the A’s lineup as long as it needed until Robbie Grossman eventually poked the walk-off single for Oakland.
There were a couple big moments against the Yankees, too. On Wednesday, closer Liam Hendriks answered the call for a five-out save, entering in the 8th with two on, one out, and the go-ahead run coming to the plate. He struck out MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu and superstar Aaron Judge to end the threat, dialing up to 100 mph against Judge, and then needed just seven pitches to breeze through a 1-2-3 inning in the 9th. The next night, with Hendriks resting and unavailable, Soria tapped in for the 9th to earn his first save of the season.
The Hendriks celebration after fanning Judge is one of the most electric highlights of the season so far. It’s even better when you remember that the last time these two faced, Judge took Liam deep last year in the Wild Card Game. Just try to watch this without getting pumped up.
Overall in these seven games, the relievers posted a 2.03 ERA in 26⅔ innings, with 25 strikeouts and six walks. After Treinen’s blown lead in the opener, they converted their next 11 chances (3 saves, 8 holds).
6. Rotation holds serve
The starting rotation didn’t carry any of these victories on their own, but they did at least hold their own in every one. They went at least five frames in each start, and they always finished with more innings than runs allowed. Only three of the outings technically registered as quality starts, but they faced two of the best lineups in the sport and never took the A’s completely out of a game.
Let’s give a special shout-out to Chris Bassitt, though. The day after the 13-inning marathon, Oakland needed every out they could get from their starter. The lineup took care of business early, with eight runs by the 5th inning, but Bassitt’s pitch count piled up quickly. Fortunately, he reached deep and delivered a desperately needed sixth frame, leaving it all on the field to give the pen as much rest as possible. He ended up throwing 116 pitches, a new career-high.
You can also click here to read more about newcomers Tanner Roark and Homer Bailey, who have both exceeded expectations since being acquired in July. Roark tossed the other two quality starts last week, and Bailey shut down the Yankees just like nobody expected.
7. A.J. Puk and Corban Joseph
The A’s welcomed a couple of new rookies to the squad recently. Let’s begin with second baseman Corban Joseph.
The 30-year-old Joseph actually made his A’s debut in the previous finale against the Giants, the day before the Astros came to town, but we got our first extended look at him against the AL titans. He wasted no time making his presence known, blasting his first career homer in the opener against Houston. Of course, while it came in his second game with the A’s, it was a full six years after his overall MLB debut back in 2013 — after all, since then he’d only racked up 26 career plate appearances entering this season.
Granted, Joseph hasn’t done much else since that dinger. He’s batting just .192, and he made an error late in the 13-inning game that fortunately didn’t end up mattering. But A’s fans were ready to see anything new at second base, and it’s always fun checking out a new rookie who forced his way to the bigs. And hey, this was a neat heads-up play:
Meanwhile, elite prospect A.J. Puk made his own MLB debut on Wednesday against the Yankees. It didn’t go great, as two of his three batters reached base and his one out required a marvelous diving catch by Jurickson Profar, but just seeing him at all was something special. He’s back from Tommy John surgery, he’s healthy, and he can pump 99 mph fastballs from an intimidating 6’7 frame — and we still haven’t really seen his highly regarded slider, which he didn’t fully unleash in his first outing.
Welcome to the majors, A.J. and Corban!
For more on Joseph and Puk, check out Nico’s Eyeball Scout report.
8. Khrush homers
Khris Davis hasn’t been right lately. His swing has looked off for months, and his power has disappeared after being one of the most consistent tools in the sport for years. He hadn’t homered since July 30, and before that June 18, and he entered Wednesday on a 2-for-27 skid.
He finally broke that slump against J.A. Happ. With the Yankees up 1-0 in the 2nd inning, Davis knocked a two-run dinger to take a lead that the A’s never relinquished.
That’s the Khrush we all know and love pic.twitter.com/tymuBMp2G9— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 22, 2019
It was just one hit, and he’s 0-for-6 since, but it sure was a sight for sore eyes. Hopefully it’ll prove to be the first data point in a famous Khrush hot streak.
9. The 9,000th A’s victory
The opener against the Astros brought another special distinction, as the 9,000th win in A’s franchise history.
Or was it? Oakland still has to complete their suspended game from May, which they lead in the 7th inning against a Tigers team that gave up on the season long ago. If they hold on for that win, will their 9,000th technically move up to the previous game on Aug. 13 against the Giants? Either way, well done on this latest milestone, fellas.
10. Matt Olson’s defense
We talk a lot about Matt Chapman’s wizardry, and the historic improvement of Marcus Semien. Here’s a quick reminder that Matt Olson is also the best defensive first baseman in baseball. He makes a bigger impact than most fans probably realize is capable for a 1B. Here are two double plays that other first basemen simply don’t make.
The reaction from the broadcast crew says it all.
This next one is even more ridiculous. He has the presence of mind to tap the bag while he’s spinning to position himself to throw to second, knowing that there won’t be time for a return throw to first. Also, how many other 1Bs can even make that throw at all?
Good grief. Give the man his Gold Glove already.
And that’s a wrap! The A’s are on fire, having smoked the two best teams in the AL, and now they get to carry that roll into the second half of their Bay Bridge Series against the Giants. I’ll leave you with one last incredible tweet, courtesy of the incomparable Mark Canha — who, by the way, led the team with a 229 wRC+ in these seven games (11-for-24, 2 HR, 8 RBI):
Literally Outta Da Pak Mark.